Monday, February 06, 2012

Transforming lives

Each morning buses pick up children in Bangalore and take them to a beautiful modern school where they have breakfast and start their lessons. They break for lunch in between and after school, they get a glass of milk before they are dropped home.

The campus is vast, with playgrounds, laboratories, art, music alongside maths, science, languages and social sciences taught in airy and bright classrooms. The difference in this school is that the children come from slums, they bathe and wear clean uniforms in school and their parents do not have to pay a rupee for anything.

Christel House was started by Christel De Haan, who after selling one of the world’s largest vacation exchange providers in 1996, has since been working with children in India, Mexico, South Africa and the US.

The Christel House Learning Centre wants to transform lives by giving children of maids, plumbers, drivers and other low-income earners the opportunity to get an education that would level the difference between them and those from privileged families.

Children at Christel House
I had visited the school some years ago and later published an article about them in the Best of Bangalore, alongside other institutions like Iskcon and ACTS. Last week, I visited the school again and was bowled over by the advancements that have happened in just a few years.

The earlier batches might have suffered from low self-esteem. I don’t think that the current students would have any such problem. From five-year-olds to teenagers, they seem happy, fluent and confident. Some of the students have gone abroad on scholarships and a few have got jobs as management trainees. What a huge difference their learning and new earning capacities would make to their lives and that of their families.

Soon after my visit to the school, I attended an industry meeting that was deliberating the lack of skill sets. We were to consider commissioning a study of skills that different industries required and hopefully, there would be training initiatives based on the report. 

Christel House
A senior industry member put forth the most sensible idea – why should we worry about the lack of turners or fitters? If a factory needs a technician, it can hire trainees. With automation replacing humans, jobs in the manufacturing sector are going to decrease. What is required is training in the service sector – hotels, restaurants, shops, spas – these are the sectors that need huge numbers of people.

Just think of it – from cafes to theatres to plush stores in malls, we get service that ranges from bad to indifferent. Yes, we can blame the managements to a certain extent. But when the talent pool is so limited and the demand for bodies to man the stations, so to speak, is so high, employers have no choice but to choose the best among the worst.

Here is where I think schools like Christel House can make a huge difference. Of course, their students have the opportunity to become scientists, engineers, doctors, writers or whatever it is they want to – but for the bulk of children from underprivileged backgrounds, the service sector would be a quick step up the ladder. It is time for industry to work with schools and colleges to train students for the service sector.

By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

Read the column on Goa Herald on the link below:

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